After a couple of poor seasons, we all thought that the Green Bay Packers defense was ready to step things up and help Aaron Rodgers to win another Super Bowl, but before that, they will need to find the way for the zebras not to throw a flag every time they hit the quarterback.
Before the beginning of the season, the controversial new helmet-to-helmet rule seemed to be the penalty that was going to be drawing most of the attention. After two weeks, the call creating the most buzz is roughing the passer, especially in the Chesseheads locker room.
In the fourth quarter, 1:45 remaining on the clock, the Packers were up by eight points against their divisional rivals Minnesota Vikings. Kirk Cousins was hit by Clay Matthews while throwing provoking an interception by CB Jaire Alexander. The cornerback was already celebrating the apparent Packers’ victory when the referees call a roughing-the-passer penalty on Matthews.
This called allowed the Vikings to march down the field, score a touchdown, the conversion, take the game to overtime and tie the game 29-29.
Do not hit quarterbacks high. Do not hit quarterbacks low. Do not hit them in the midriff. Roughing the passer on Clay Matthews. pic.twitter.com/pFyMnXxqxG— Ollie Connolly (@OllieConnolly) September 16, 2018
When Matthews was asked about this play after the game, he noted that for him it was a clean hit and if it wasn't, he doesn´t know how he is supposed to prevent the quarterback from throwing the ball.
“I got my head across, my hands were down, didn’t dump him, hit him within the framework of the proper tackling area, I don’t know. I don’t know. Much like you saw with lowering the helmet in the preseason, hopefully the league gets the refs and tells them to tone it down a little bit because I don’t know what else to do.”
The Packers were flagged three times for roughing the passer in week one against the Bears, including one of Clay. And the linebacker is not the only Packers’ defensive player who is baffled by all of these calls. The defensive tackle Mike Daniels said that on Sunday’s game he had to hold himself out of plays to not get a penalty. Pointing out that playing defense in this league is becoming more difficult every day.
“If I wrap him and take him down – [Vikings guard Mike] Remmers is already on me, and Remmers is going to fall on me – then I fall on the quarterback, and now it’s [a 15-yard penalty]. And now it’s like, ‘Oh, Mike, you’re an idiot.’ So, I don’t know. Who knows? It’s just trying to be smart without losing my aggression, and you just don’t know."
“It’s hard to play defense now. That’s all there is to it. It’s just hard to play defense, really. I don’t know what to say.”
The LB Nick Perry, who also got flagged against the Bears for roughing the passer, is still trying to figure out how he can hit the quarterback without looking like is doing it in a “maliciously” way.
“That's something that we haven't figured out yet. When you're going full speed and you're at a critical time like that getting him down, sometimes it comes out as just trying to get him down to the ground and not maliciously bringing him down with any force. But it always looks bad when we bring them down like that. It's a tough one.”
And the Packers’ defense is right; the NFL is trying to make the game more and more offensive, punishing the defensive players when they try to stop this. But in the specific case of the Cheeseheads, this is a funny situation because the reason why the league decided to be more rigorous with the roughing-the-passer penalty was due to the hit that Aaron Rodgers received last year by the Vikings’ LB Anthony Barr, which sidelined the quarterback for five games with a shoulder injury. So, if there’s someone that the defensive players from Green Bay should be blaming for all these calls, it's their own teammate.